For this church:
Although neither a church nor a chapel are mentioned in Domesday, it was recorded that ‘Norman the priest’ held land at Elston from Roger de Bulli. J C Cox directly associated this entry in Domesday with Elston Old Chapel, asserting that the priest ‘doubtless’ served at the chapel here, but this could apply equally to the parish church.
The earliest part of the building, the round arched south doorway with bold zig-zag moulding, has been dated to the twelfth-century. In 1998 an alternative theory was advanced that Elston Old Chapel had once been used as the infirmary hall of East Stoke Hospital. This hospital had been established sometime before 1135, and although the suggestion that Elston Old Chapel was once a building used by the hospital is yet to be substantiated, the architectural evidence dating part of the chapel to the twelfth century at least provides chronological support to this possibility.
In 1900 the Thoroton Society recorded a ‘tradition’ that propagated the notion that Elston Chapel had at one time been located at East Stoke near the site of the vicarage but had been subsequently dismantled and rebuilt in its current location at Elston. This tradition, it was remarked, ‘appeared to be borne out by the occurrence of fragments of mouldings and carved stone in the wall … which had apparently been incorporated in the structure when the walls were rebuilt’. Furthermore, it was noted that the date 1577 occurred on a stone over the east window on the outside of the building, and again inside the chapel on the north wall, near the pulpit possibly recording the date at which the chapel was removed and rebuilt. However Cox, writing in 1912, dismissed the tradition as a ‘foolish notion’, and argued that the date (1577) represented the year in which repairs to the chancel were carried out.
Although there is little evidence from the early history of the chapel, the building continued to be augmented and renovated throughout the middle ages. At the east end of the church, the outside wall is supported by two massive thirteenth-century buttresses. The north wall, east end and south chancel all have windows dating from the fourteenth century, while the twelfth-century round-arched south doorways show signs of fourteenth-century repair.
The chapel restoration took place shortly before the parish of Elston Chapel was created in 1584, and the earliest chapel register dates to this year.
In 1589 the churchwardens reported that the chancel was in decay and they reported the same 9 years later, saying it had been much reported but nothing had been done. By 1603 they presented that 'the body of our chancel is in decay and we crave a day for its mending'; four years later they are obviously seriously fed up as they reported 'our chancel is ruinous in the fault of Mr Archdeacon Pratte'. After this all seems to have been put right.
In 1621, one of the churchwardens was evidently upset by some of the parishioners returning:
Thomas Parker of the chapelry of Elston to be a most bitter, outragious, malicious and an uncharitable person, a common slanderer of his wife, calling her ‘whore, comone whore, arrant whore and Wragby his whore’ and a continual vexer and disquieter of his neighbours; Marie Parker, the wife of the said Thomas, Anne Whetwande her sister, and Brigit Ward their sister, living in Balderton, to be common slanderers, one or another, to the great offence, vexation, unquietness and grief of their honest neighbours, not ceasing to call one another when they meet together, which is often, ‘whore, comon whore and arrant whore’, not sparing to revile and reproach ‘with most odious words and bitter terms’ Cicely Mason, their natural mother.
In 1623 the vicar presented Richard Baily:
late churchwarden of the chapelry of Elston for that in 1622, when he was churchwarden, he put his kine [cattle] and other beasts in the chapelyard to depasture it and ‘eat up all the grasse herbs and fruits’ growing there, contrary to the form of the provincial constitution in the chapter de immunitate ecclie; he should by reason of this be excommunicated, which excommunication cannot be absolved until he makes sufficient and competent amendment; that he took away in 1623 a good rail out of the fence of the chapelyard ‘at the steele [stile] in the East end thereof’ and put in instead a willow bow which is now decayed; that about the middle of May he took and carried away part of the fence, namely certain rails, stoops and one gate, through which was the common passage to the chapel and hedged it with thorns; that in October, against the will of the minister and the church and contrary to the aforesaid canon, let his kine eat the grass and herbs in the chapelyard and laid open the fence at the west end of the chapelyard.
In 1743, Francis Bainbridge, who had instituted as curate on 19 August 1718, provided a full account of the parish in his visitation return to Archbishop Herring. There were thirty-four families residing in the ‘Chapel Mediety of Elston’, none of whom were dissenters. There was no meeting house, and nor were there any schools, almshouses, hospitals, or other charitable endowments. No lands or tenements had been left for the repair of the chapel, and there was no house for the minister – it was noted by way of explanation that the chapelry was ‘only an appendage of East Stoake [East Stoke]’. All who attended the chapel had been baptised, and all those of sufficient age had been confirmed. The curate noted that he did not catechise at Elston as often as at Stoke, but there was a standing arrangement whereby the school master of Elston (in the same part of the township as the parish church) instructed the children of the chapel parish. The sacrament was administered three times a year at Easter, Whitsuntide and Christmas with twenty communicants having received the sacrament the previous Easter. Nobody had been refused the sacrament. The churchwardens in 1743 were Matthew Blackmore and Thomas Sumner.
At Archbishop Drummond’s visitation in 1764 the vicar, the Rev Thomas Wakefield, made a joint return with East Stoke, Coddington and Syerston. There were, he said, about 140 families, none of whom were dissenters, no meeting house, no school, and no benefactions. He lived in the vicarage at East Stoke, and took services twice every Sunday at Stoke ‘or the chapels’. He explained that Coddington, Syerston, and Elston ‘are all members of and belong to the parish of Stoke. They are served by me. Syerston and Elston are each one mile distant from the parish church of Stoke and Coddington three miles distant’.
Throsby, writing in 1790, discusses two divisions of Elston, ‘Chapel Elston’ being called ‘Stoke’ (as it lies on the parish boundary with East Stoke). The chapel had separate registers, commencing in 1584.
In c1822, the pews were replaced with plain unpainted deal, and around the same time John Sumner of Elston was commemorated in front of the west gallery for his benefaction to the poor of ‘the Chapel Parish of Elston’. The population of Elston Chapelry was recorded as 298 in the religious census of 1851, although no other details were provided other than to record that the chapelry remained part of the parish of East Stoke. In 1870, the religious use of the chapel ended when it was united with the parish of Elston, All Saints.
In Highways and Byways in Nottinghamshire (1916), J B Firth noted that the deserted chapel at Elston was ‘hardly worth the labour of discovery’. Yet, for members of the Thoroton Society on their summer excursion in 1900, the chapel formed an entirely favourable impression: ‘A more beautiful entrance to a church could not easily be found anywhere than is to be seen here. On each side the ground is cultivated with roses and flowers, and presents a lovely appearance… The ancient chapel, now disused, amply repays the visitor to this quaint little village.’
The article also recorded concern on the part of a local farmer regarding visitors to the deserted chapel:
It will be a long time before the members of the Thoroton Society forget what was asked of them by the old gentleman who evidently rents the field in which the chapel is situated. As they approached he begged of them to pay respect to him by walking in single file across his growing hay. Needless to say his order was obeyed.
At the time of the visit by the Thoroton Society, chapel wardens continued to be appointed, and rent from the field in which the building was located was allocated to keeping the chapel water tight and clean. Elston Old Chapel was declared redundant on 23 September 1976, and subsequently passed to the custody of the Churches Conservation Trust on 9 February 1978 for preservation.